Environment Agency Fails to Investigate Fish Kills
Fish Legal solicitors have exposed serious failings at the Environment Agency (EA) in responding to water pollution which kills wildlife. For many years Fish Legal members have complained of the Agency failing to respond to fish kill incidents effectively, including not completing full fish kill surveys to assess the numbers of dead fish or the impact on remaining fish populations. Fish Legal can now show from the EA’s own damning data just how bad the situation really is.
Fish Legal made a freedom of information request regarding the EA’s response over the past 6 years to pollutions which caused fish mortality. This was to find out the number of fish kill assessments done immediately after an incident; whether they responded within 24 hrs (or at all); and whether they surveyed the remaining affected species within 8 weeks after the incident (to assess recovery). The disclosure revealed a shocking lack of both mortality assessments and population surveys, as well as poor response times, and in some cases no fisheries response at all. Out of the 17 fishery areas in England, the lowlights included:
• Just 134 immediate fish kill assessments completed by fisheries teams in 6 years out of 839 incidents killing fish: that’s just 16% of incidents being followed up with a proper assessment of dead wildlife once pollution occurs;
• Regional variation sees immediate fish kill reports in 61% of cases in Anglian Central, but in 0% of cases in 4 other regions: North and South Wessex, Cornwall and East Midlands. In South Wessex fishery surveys were carried out within 8 weeks in 43% of cases, but in 6 other regions no cases at all were followed up with a survey of this type;
• Only 40 pollution incidents killing fish were followed up with a survey of the remaining fish population within 8 weeks, out of 839 incidents over 6 years: a mere 5% of total cases!
In England & Wales 1.3 million freshwater anglers contribute about £22 million a year in licence fees to fund the EA’s delivery of its statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries. These figures indicate that it is failing in its statutory duty to licence-payers.
Fish Legal has met with and written to the EA’s Head of Fisheries for answers and will be closely scrutinising what changes are brought forward to improve matters. It is clear that poor decisions are being made by Environment Management teams, who decide not to involve fisheries teams when responding to incidents.
Fish Legal has also discovered that the EA does not always follow its own Operational Instructions for responding to water pollution. There remains a fundamental concern over the Agency’s ability to gather effectively the evidence needed to make polluters pay for the damage they cause to fisheries, and to assess the state of the water environment.
William Rundle, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal, said:
“We have been surprised by what appears in the Agency data and I have met with the Environment Agency Head of Fisheries to discuss these problems. We have had an open and candid conversation about this and he has promised to look into the situation himself and bring forward improvements. I understand an audit of “Environment Management” performance has already been set up. It goes without saying that this situation cannot continue, as it appears that even the minimum standard of service required by the Agency is not being met.”
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said:
“Fish kill surveys are important for criminal prosecutions generally but also for Fish Legal when it takes civil legal action against polluters on behalf of its members. Without a proper survey, the courts do not have all the information they need to impose tough fines, and polluters use this to argue there has been less damage to fisheries when faced with paying compensation to affected angling clubs. This means that polluters get away without proper punishment and the objective of deterring offenders is not fully achieved. It is quite frankly ridiculous that the EA does not carry out full surveys after each and every incident which involves fish going ‘belly up’ in our nation’s precious streams, rivers and lakes.”